Internet Gaming Disorder: The Damaging Effects of Screen Addictions

Internet gaming disorder, as discussed here , is a new diagnosis for a problem that an increasing – and disturbing – number of adolescents and adults are experiencing. IGD, an acronym for internet gaming disorder, is defined as “a pattern of excessive and prolonged internet gaming that results in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.”

We can’t deny that technology is huge part of our modern lives, yet we need to be cautious of spending more and more of our time gazing at screens, as there can be serious negative effects. IGD occurs in some cases when a person loses control over gaming.

Screen addictions have negative social consequences in two ways: the individual neglects their existing relationships and fails to form new ones, both because gaming requires all of their time and because it interferes with the development of effective social skills.

Research is conflicted as to whether playing violent video games increases violent behavior, but it is common for intense gamers to become agitated and aggressive when family members attempt to intervene. Those with IGD also suffer the effects of sleep deprivation, such as inability to concentrate, mood swings, and poor judgment.

Neuroimaging studies have been undertaken to look into how excessive internet gaming affects brain development, which is especially important for young gamers. Gray matter atrophy in the frontal lobe and reduced cortical thickness signal a decreased ability to plan, prioritize, and just generally get stuff done. The study also found damage to the insula, which is important for having healthy relationships with others.

The disparity between digital immigrants and digital natives can make communicating between generations difficult, as individuals in each group have unique perspectives. Recognizing the potential problems and coming up with a consistent strategy will help parents deal with their gamer children.

On that note, parents can take steps to prevent and deal with their children’s screen habits and ameliorate any addictive behavior. The following are some recommendations:

  • Develop home guidelines around the use of technology early in your child’s life, writing down what you and your child agree to;
  • Stipulate that homework is completed before computer/gaming time, in order to frame computer/gaming time as a reward instead of a right;
  • Parents must have password (with no one else given access to passwords, even friends);
  • All electronics must be “turned in” to parents at night (to prevent late-night gaming);
  • Reinforce the idea that smart phones are a privilege, not a right; and
  • Require that the computer is used in public places such as the kitchen, where it can be monitored continuously.

Keep in mind that these recommendations will only work if they are enforced continuously. Furthermore, seek out opportunities for your child to be ‘unplugged’ with healthy activities such as sports, art, and outdoor recreation. Technology is here to stay, and it can definitely be a blessing. With careful monitoring, we can keep it from also becoming a curse.

Internet Gaming Disorder: What is it?

Recent studies have shown that 8-18 year olds devote about 53 hours a week to screen time. Many psychologists, particularly child development experts, believe so much time in front of a computer screen is harmful. So, let’s review the facts. 

It used to be exciting just to chat using Skype or Facetime, and now almost any question can be answered with a few pulses on a screen that doesn’t even require real buttons. Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, and accompanying the digital evolution are advantages and disadvantages.

Because it has advanced so quickly, there is a distinct generational difference in a person’s relationship to technology. Generation Xers are digital immigrants, born before its widespread adoption. Generation Y/Millenials, i.e. those born between 1980 and 1995, are digital natives, who’ve been interacting with digital technology since childhood.
sleep-cell-phone

The digital immigrant/digital native difference is important because digital natives are so comfortable that they are likely to ignore its potential negative effects.

And as time goes on, we are seeing children – and adults – spend more and more time looking at screens. In sync with these developments, a disorder known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has come to be recognized by psychologists. IGD is defined as a pattern of excessive and prolonged internet gaming that results in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Notably, IGD bears a troubling resemblance to the DSM-5 definition of substance addiction: “behavior that continues despite adverse consequences.”

An individual dealing with IGD will progressively lose control over gaming, devoting at least 30 hours a week to it, and might even lie to family members or therapists regarding the amount of time spent gaming. They might use internet games to escape or relieve a negative mood. In fact, they also might dream about it, become obsessed with it when at school or work (yes, adults can get addicted too!)

The table below illustrates some of the symptoms and consequences of IGD.

SIGNS and SYMPTOMS

CONSEQUENCES

  • Giving up previously preferred activities
  • Losing sleep
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Increased arguments with parents
  • School failure
  • Job loss
  • Marriage failure
  • Students show declining grades    or eventual school failure
  • Family responsibilities neglected

 

Further, an individual with this disorder will often show tolerance and withdrawal symptoms analogous to substance abuse disorder. This leads them to continue gaming despite knowledge of growing problems in the non-virtual world. These problems might include bargaining and deal-making to extend time, threats when taken away, and sneaky and manipulative behavior in an effort to continue playing or engaging in the games/technology.

All in all, an internet or gaming addiction needs be taken addressed and taken seriously. For more information and some concrete steps to take, check my next post on specific psychological problems caused by IGD and how parents can work on preventing it.